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by Tim Regan — January 23, 2017 at 3:50 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

A local tech company wants to make it easier for people to connect with their elected representatives.

That company, Phone2Action, turns people into “citizen advocates” by helping them engage with lawmakers over the phone, in emails and on social media, according to co-founders Jeb Ory and Ximena Hartsock.

Jeb and Ximena, photo by Tony Powell“We created Phone2Action to solve a very large but very simple problem,” Ory said. “Connecting people to policymakers so they can be part of the civic process.”

Say you run an organization or business that wants to rally supporters behind a specific cause. Using
Phone2Action’s subscription “digital grassroots platform,” you can urge people to get in touch with their state or local officials without having to step away from their computer or put down their smartphone.

“If you are … a service provider, you can let a lawmaker know about the valuable service you can provide or you can let a lawmaker know about why your supporters believe that policies could be a certain way,” Hartsock added. “Our clients use the tools to engage their supporters and let lawmakers know about how they feel about certain things.”

The company started in 2012 with just 15 employees, but quickly outgrew its location in the District. Now at 40 staffers, Phone2Action operates out of an office building in Rosslyn.

“We have about 20 open positions now,” said Hartsock. “We will be 90 [employees] pretty soon. We’re already outgrowing our space.”

When the company finally does outgrow its space, it will move to a larger office, likely elsewhere in Arlington, Hartsock added.

In the future, Ory said the Phone2Action will continue to invest in working with new platforms. For instance, the company is looking to integrate its platform with Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated service.

“Today, it’s Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, but where is it going to be tomorrow?” he said. “We’re committed to being at the forefront.”

Phone2Action also has plans to expand its service to other places across the globe, like Chile and countries in Western Europe.

“There’s a huge opportunity to help people across the world weigh in and talk about matters that are important to them,” Ory added.

Ory and Hartsock photo by Tony Powell

by Katie Pyzyk — January 16, 2017 at 12:00 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Cybersecurity currently is a frequently discussed but often misunderstood field. At Adlumin, though, it’s a well-understood topic that’s more than just a buzzword. The employees design solutions to identify and prevent potential breaches in clients’ networks.

Adlumin logoCybersecurity is a broad term, but the Adlumin team targets what co-founder and VP of business development Timothy Evans calls “the Edward Snowden problem,” when a seemingly authorized user enters part of the network they’re not allowed to access.

“I realized that corporate breaches were continuing to succeed because attackers were able to steal the identities of employees and use that identity to attack the infrastructure as if they were that person,” said Adlumin president and CEO Robert Johnston. “The problem we set out to solve is the identity access and management piece.”

A small breach such as a user figuring out a computer password can compromise an entire business structure because the illegitimate user often gains access to other accounts with locally-saved passwords, such as Gmail or Twitter.

“Eventually [an intruder can] end up with the keys to the entire kingdom and they can literally access any system or cloud resource they want,” Johnston said.

That’s what happened during the Democratic National Committee hack last year when more than 100 users’ private email accounts were accessed, Johnston said. He led the response effort to the DNC breach and said those hackers “were able to access the system as if they were a user.”

Adlumin team membersAdlumin’s software can “see” and monitor every single user on a client’s network, even on a global scale. It incorporates user behavior analytics — which Johnston said not all cybersecurity companies deal with — to determine if a network is in danger.

“Rob decided we needed to solve a hard problem, which is to find intruders in a network. They don’t use things like malware or ransomware, they’re in the network and they look like your legitimate users,” Evans said. “There’s only one way to find them and that’s based on their behavior patterns to determine whether they’re a real user or a fake user.”

Adlumin’s software monitors a business’ network 24/7 to detect changes in user behaviors. Evans explained that it uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to continuously update information about user habits. If the software detects a potential anomaly, it sends an alert. Think of it like a credit card company tracking a card user’s spending habits and sending a warning notification when an odd purchase occurs.

In addition to providing the monitoring software, Adlumin manages customers’ cyber infrastructure and training.

Clarendon-based Adlumin incorporated in June 2016 and was assisted by the Herndon-based Mach37 cybersecurity business incubator. It now has five full-time employees and plans further expansion this year.

“The Washington, D.C. metro area, and specifically Arlington, is an awesome place to do this business,” Evans said.

Noting the proximity to the country’s top intelligence agencies, Johnston said there’s “a lot of untapped human capital in this area” for cybersecurity.

As far as what’s in store for the future, Johnston said the Adlumin team will continue updating its software algorithms and wants to “dominate the identity and access management piece” of cybersecurity.

by Tim Regan — January 9, 2017 at 2:45 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Snagajob offices in Rosslyn (photo courtesy of Snagajob)A fast-growing Arlington tech company has moved its operations to a much larger office in Rosslyn.

Snagajob, a company that helps employers find hourly workers and vice versa, announced last week it had moved into a spacious new office in the Waterview building on N. Lynn Street.

The new business hub spans about 32,000 square feet, which is more than four times as big as Snagajob’s old office in Ballston. The office also features such amenities as free beer and popcorn, several game tables and a stunning view of Georgetown.

Cubicles at Snagajob offices in RosslynBut all that new space is necessary for the quickly expanding firm. Last year, Snagajob grew its employee base by about 60 percent. Some of that growth came from its acquisition of PeopleMatter, an HR software business that aided employers in hiring, screening and managing employees.

This year, Snagajob is planning to grow its D.C.-area staff by about 50 percent. Many of those new employees will work in sales and sales management, account management, marketing and data science, the company said.

Currently, the tech firm employs about 450 “Snaggers” across its offices in Rosslyn; Richmond; Oakland, California and Charleston, South Carolina.

“Selecting an office location is really about choosing a community to be a part of,” said Viyas Sundaram, Snagajob’s Chief Revenue Officer, in a statement. “Arlington, and the larger D.C. metro area, has a thriving startup and tech community that we are excited to be a part of and support. I am looking forward to aggressively growing our team here to complement our other offices as we expand our footprint nationally.”

Check out some more photos of Snagajob’s new Rosslyn offices below.

by Buzz McClain — January 2, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

When and if more manufacturing jobs start returning to the U.S., MicroBenefits will be on hand to provide “front-line workers” with a useful tool that helps them work safer and more efficiently, provides training and a pathway for advancement, and creates powerful communication capabilities between the workers and management.

MicroBenefits US staffThe Arlington-based startup, with U.S. operations headquartered in Crystal City’s 1776 business incubator, is already in operation in factories in China. Vietnam is coming online soon; factories in the Philippines are slated for early 2017.

“We’re making English and Spanish versions of the app and we’ll enter different markets [in those languages] as we have opportunities with different brands,” said Mason Chenn, director of business development.

So what does MicroBenefits do for those front-line workers? But first, what is a front-line worker?

“A front-line worker is the person who is assembling your smartphone or your speakers, or is sewing the shirts you are buying from a brand that you know,” he said. “They’re the person putting the stitches together or screwing the screws into the device.”

Photo courtesy MicroBenefitsIf you’ve ever been a front-line worker you know that it’s an isolating position, even though you may be surrounded by coworkers and supervisors. You punch the clock when you come in, do your job and punch out. In some management structures, the only time you get to communicate common problems is over a beverage with coworkers after hours. And visiting with human resources or upper management is a big, tension-filled deal.

Smart companies know they operate more efficiently when they receive feedback from their employees. What MicroBenefits does is give those front-line workers access to a number of channels they never had before via smartphones.

“We offer a mobile technology platform that helps empower front line workers,” Chenn said, bravely attempting to summarize. “The elevator speech gets very complicated after that.”

MicroBenefits deals with multiple stakeholders — the brands that employ the suppliers and the suppliers that employ the front-line workers. “Our technology is enabling change in supply chains around the world,” Chenn said, catching the elevator again.

“We’re trying to solve compliance issues around environmental health and safety. We help to qualify workers for advancement within their organizations with training opportunities. And we provide feedback channels so workers have a voice in the factor to talk about the issues they’re experiencing.”

(more…)

by Katie Pyzyk — December 19, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

College students fall asleep in class. It’s an age-old issue. But a new solution to the problem is what prompted the launch of Sunniva, an Arlington-based “super coffee” beverage business.

A couple of years ago Jordan DeCicco was that guy who kept falling asleep in his classes at Philadelphia University. The freshman tried to stay awake using the energy drinks or pre-made coffee beverages available at convenience stores, but he didn’t like all the sugar, fat, caffeine, and calories that accompanied the beverages.

He learned about Bulletproof Coffee — a blended mixture of coffee, grass-fed butter, and MCT oil — and found that it definitely gave the energy boost he needed to stay awake through class. He tried making it in his dorm room but that wasn’t really practical for a few reasons. First, making it ahead of time and trying to chill it resulted in the butter going back to its solid form. Second, it was loaded with fat from the butter. Finally, Jordan just wasn’t a fan of the taste.

Sunniva "super coffee" beverageThat’s when he started making his own coffee drink and it seemed to be a winner. So much so that other students took notice and DeCicco began selling the drink out of his dorm room. He felt like he was onto something and enlisted help from older brother Jake, who at the time was in business school at Georgetown University.

“We’re very much accidental entrepreneurs,” Jake says. “We were just tired college students who needed an energy boost.”

Sunniva’s combination of Colombian coffee, coconut oil, and a lactose-free milk protein is a low-fat, low-cal beverage that, according to Jake, offers a longer-term energy boost compared to other products that often provide an energy spike and a crash later. Each bottle has 90mg of caffeine, which is pretty standard for an 8 oz. cup of coffee.

Sunniva is now about a year old and based out of the WeWork space in Crystal City. Oldest brother Jim is now the CEO and joins middle brother Jake in running the business, while youngest brother Jordan has gone back to school after taking a year off following his freshman year.

The business is coming full circle and targeting the very audience from which the original idea sprouted: Sunniva has found a substantial niche market on college campuses. It therefore relies heavily on digital marketing channels that younger audiences use: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, and vlogs, to name a few.

“Being started by tired college kids for tired college kids, we really take advantage of this digital age,” Jake says.

The DeCicco brothers, who launched Arlington-based SunnivaThe brothers often are featured in the various social media posts. “We definitely have a personality behind the brand,” Jake says. He laughs as he points out how they often go by “oldest brother, middle brother, and youngest brother” instead of by formal titles like CEO, COO, or founder.

In addition to a growing market on college campuses, Sunniva also has found a home in the cold beverage section of 32 Whole Foods stores in the Mid-Atlantic region, as well as on Amazon.

The product is processed at an aseptic facility in Buffalo, New York. The business tried out different manufacturers and different modes of pasteurization before landing at the current facility. “We had to scale our business appropriately to get there,” Jake says.

Sunniva currently processes about 200,000 bottles per batch. The product now is made in such a way that it doesn’t require refrigeration before opening; it’s shelf-stable for nine months.

Sunniva’s business plan involves further expansion into other Mid-Atlantic and northern East Coast markets up to Boston, with a longer-term goal of becoming a national brand. But the goal for early 2017 is to work on more local market penetration. The brothers want Sunniva to be the “premier bottled coffee in the Washington, D.C. area.”

“Reaching profitability is not a metric we use right now,” Jake says. “Right now we’re really focused on our philosophy of ‘win where you live’ and being hyperlocal.”

by Buzz McClain — December 12, 2016 at 3:55 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Michael MeyersLike a lot of college students, Michael Meyers was strapped for cash. Like, really strapped for cash, even gas money. He was not, however, short on ambition, ingeniousness or energy. Put those together — the need for funds plus the determination to earn it — and you get a new business.

In this case, it’s the Arlington-based sharing economy platform called Tradeversity.

“The problem I had wasn’t revolutionary by any means,” Meyers admitted. “As a student covering my college expenses I was just trying to sell items around my apartment.”

At the time, in 2013, Meyers was studying marketing and finance at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. The Northern Virginia native was unfamiliar with neighborhoods off campus so he eschewed posting on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace which might have him delivering to sketchy or distant neighborhoods, and Marketplace listings tend to get buried quickly. He also learned that shipping costs incurred with a sale on eBay posts were prohibitive.

His inventory at the time included textbooks, furniture and especially backpacks — his father is a rep for Jansport. In short, he needed an efficient way to list his merchandise to a specific market, ideally those nearby with an SC.edu address.

“I discovered there was no simple, effective, safe way to sell my stuff,” he said.

And when you find a niche, what’s an ambitious marketing and finance major to do but to fill it?

thunderclap2Things moved fast for Meyers, who credits a superb support system for innovators and entrepreneurs at his university: Incubators, mentors and others who “helped me embrace the idea of starting a business in school. You have so many resources surrounding you.”

A beta test at USC was a strong indicator that he was onto something. Not only did it catch on with his own cohort, suddenly students at other universities were asking, When is Tradeversity coming to our school?

The timeline: Inception in 2013; developing the concept immediately after graduating in December 2014; launching the platform in 2015.

He is finding similar entrepreneurial support at his new offices at Crystal City’s 1776 startup incubator. In the last month or so since signing on, Meyers said he’s found new mentors “who have been very generous with their time. They have a strong understanding of how to build a technology company.”

TradeversityThe experience has been similar at Crystal City’s WeLive/WeWork innovation hub. Those are the locations, in addition to an office at the USC/Cola Technology Incubator, where the staff of three full-time employees and the various part-time and contract employees work on perfecting the platform.

The Arlington locations, he said, “have been extremely supportive and helpful and opened us up to a vast network of mentors, educational opportunities and talent. We’ve also been working with Tara Silver and her [marketing] group SilverStrategy as well.”

Meyers said he developed the idea on a bootstrap basis. “I put everything I had into the company,” he said. “You can imagine that if I was trying to sell backpacks to cover the cost of college, my [investment] wasn’t very much.”

A huge financial and inspirational windfall arrived when Tradeversity won the Proving Ground 2014 “big pitch” competition at USC, with a $20,000 prize. That and a few grants got them through and recently Meyers closed his first angel round, raising, he said, more than $400,000.

That funding will go into all the elements of the business, from design and coding to marketing and hiring more staff. He hopes to fill five to eight full-time spots in the next 12 months.

TradeversityThe service is live and open at 20 universities — an .edu address is required to open an account — but he said there are clients at “more than 200 additional schools” who have opened accounts. “That’s our roadmap for future launches,” he said. “We launch based on where the orders are coming from anyway.”

Tradeversity avoids the cumbersome paperwork involved in becoming an official school vendor — the school usually wants a cut of sales — but some university officials have expressed branding Tradeversity’s service in their own name, a private label as it were, and Meyers is in talks with representatives about that concept.

Licensing may be a viable revenue stream in the future. Meyers is exploring other monetization opportunities that take advantage of cash sales going down in college residence halls. “It’s very difficult when you have a hyper-localized marketplace unless you control the transaction from start to finish,” he said.

But he’ll figure it out. He did it once, he can do it again.

by Katie Pyzyk — December 5, 2016 at 2:55 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Leaf College SavingsThe skyrocketing cost of higher education can make saving and paying for college overwhelming. So you might want to “leaf” the burden to the experts.

Leaf College Savings co-founders Juan Aguilar, Chris Duffus and Josh Bixler set out with the goal of making it easier to save for college. More specifically, they wanted to find an easier way to give the gift of college savings because, as Aguilar says, “it’s a complicated web out there of college savings.”

The collaborators previously had been colleagues at another Arlington business and regrouped a few years after that company sold. Leaf has been around for about three years now and the Rosslyn-based business has nearly 20 employees.

Leaf enables people to purchase an FDIC-insured gift card which transfers money directly into any 529 college savings plan. If the recipient doesn’t have a college savings account, the business will help set one up.

“It’s a gift that says something very special and very specific,” Aguilar says.

Another option Leaf offers is for an employer to allow payroll contributions to go toward a college savings gift, in a similar way to how a 401(k) works.

“That’s the headache we’re solving right now,” says Aguilar. “The gift card is one idea, a payroll deduction… is idea number two.”

Aguilar points out that children are more likely to pursue higher education if they have some savings set aside for it. He says Leaf offers ways to start saving early — for example, by giving one of the gift cards at a baby shower — and all of the contributions will add up over the child’s lifetime.

“We’re not trying to say a gift card will pay for every dime. But we say that every little bit helps and you need to get started somewhere,” he says. “Over time it will grow into something, which is certainly better than not having made a plan or waiting until it’s too late.”

The business continues to evolve and improve based on feedback from customers and research on changes and trends for savings plans. Employees currently are devising a payroll benefits program to help workers pay off their student loans. Leaf is working on the idea with companies interested in using such a benefit as a recruitment and retention incentive.

“The amount of college debt is staggering,” Aguilar says. “Companies love the idea of college savings and helping employees with student loans.”

As a testament to the benefits Leaf provides, Aguilar says he uses the services for his own kids.

“On a personal level, being able to use Leaf myself… it’s good to see the product work and that it really helps people,” he says. “I’m happy that we’re helping people save for college.”

by Katie Pyzyk — November 21, 2016 at 3:30 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

The next time you get direct marketing mail don’t be so quick to throw it out without at least taking a look. Consider that Lee Garvey and the employees at Click2Mail may have been the people working hard to get the materials into your mailbox.

Lee Garvey, founder of Click2MailGarvey worked for years at the U.S. Postal Service, starting as a mail carrier in Arlington and moving into other roles, before founding Click2Mail in 2004. His time as a mail carrier exposed him to a lot of local customers who encountered the same problem: They easily could send out a few letters at a time but had difficulty handling large groups of mail.

So Garvey launched a service to make it easier.

“If you’re just mailing five or 10 letters, it’s easy. But when you get into the higher numbers you have to have a system and a postage meter and all that stuff. So I set out to create an online system,” Garvey says. “I’ve experienced the problems we solve for our customers and the way I got started was identifying a problem and finding a way to solve it.”

The small business digitally creates many types of marketing mail, such as when a business sends out hundreds of postcards to advertise a promotion. Click2Mail also can personalize communications so that a car dealer, for example, can send a letter that personally addresses a customer and mentions the type of car the customer recently purchased. Another service is to offer quick turnarounds for “just in time” communications, which tend to be more time sensitive. Garvey says that if a customer submits a digital file by 8 p.m. on a weekday, Click2Mail often can send out personalized notifications as quickly as the next day for a fraction of what such a service used to cost.

“The sender of the postal mail doesn’t have to do anything. They send to us their assets and documents and mailing lists and we take care of the rest,” Garvey says.

Garvey launched Click2Mail while still working at the Postal Service. USPS officially ran it for three years but then decided not to oversee the service anymore. Around that time, Garvey ended up leaving the Postal Service and branched off Click2Mail as a separate entity. The business still partners with USPS, among others, and can be accessed both through its own website and through the Postal Service’s.

Click2Mail employees prepare for a video conferenceClick2Mail has an office in Clarendon and 15 employees who work throughout the United States. Garvey is a huge believer in allowing staff to work remotely at least a couple days a week — even the local employees — and relying on video conferencing for staff collaboration. He says the concept is “one of the benefits of having a largely digital business.”

The Click2Mail team has experienced ups and downs with the fluctuating economy and people’s changing desires to send physical mail, but it currently is in the process of expansion. The business is looking to hire new employees and is revamping its website. Click2Mail has also gained positive exposure thanks recent recognition from Entrepreneur as number 203 on the magazine’s list of the 360 best and most well-rounded small businesses in America.

“We’re very happy with the place where we are and we’re growing,” Garvey says.

Another positive industry trend, Garvey notes, is one that surprises many people: Traditional mail marketing and advertising is back on the rise.

“Businesses that years ago decided that they were going to go all digital and start sending everything by email… they discovered that the level of attention that’s paid to that type of thing is shrinking,” Garvey says. “People are throwing money at the digital world and discovering it’s not as effective as it used to be and the effectiveness of direct mail is increasing.”

Part of that shift may be due to an “everything old is new again” attitude and a “snail mail” revival thanks to millennials. Garvey explains that each year the Postal Service does a household survey and within the last year “they discovered that millennials are very enthusiastic about physical mail.”

But Garvey knows that going about direct mailing completely in an old school fashion isn’t sustainable in the long term. That’s why Click2Mail has continuously updated and modernized its services. It taps into the trend of companies integrating outsourced microservices.

“We have been following closely and adapting our services to that type of model,” Garvey says. “It’s an old thing in a lot of people’s minds, the idea of postal mail. But we’re doing it in a very modern, very technologically savvy way that gives people the opportunity to create mail in a ‘just in time’ fashion that you never could have imagined just a few years ago.”

by Katie Pyzyk — November 14, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Sometimes business is booming, branding is on point and more customers pour in without prompting. Other times, a business might need an extra punch. That’s where Punch Digital Strategies comes in.

Punch Digital StrategiesIn the crowded field of digital marketing, the creative strategists at Punch aim to set themselves apart by offering clients the “whole package.” Co-Founder and Creative Director Joe DePalma explains that Punch is a boutique agency and competitors in that space often only focus on one thing, such as brand identity or development or design.

“The success stories we have had is when we started to merge the idea of strategy and content with design,” he says. “From a product delivery standpoint we have a unique approach to how we collaborate. Being in control of not only the content but also the design and development, every facet, makes the final project come to life.”

Co-Founder Brian Tillman adds that “clients are often good at knowing their technical content, but not marketing.” That creates a “mismatched user experience and message. We’re trying to fuse those two things,” he says.

The agency consists of writers, designers and developers who focus on producing digital elements — such as websites, mobile apps, videos and downloadable content — to create the “next generation” for each client’s brand identity and message. The digital aspect allows Punch to be browser-based both internally and while interacting with clients.

“Instead of the old way where you’d do a big reveal on a poster board and send versions back and forth and have long email chains where things get lost, we do things in a much more efficient way,” Tillman says. “For clients it’s a lot quicker, more collaborative and more involved. And it helps to reduce errors and miscommunication.”

The Punch Digital Strategies team Even though the business is mostly web-based, the co-founders think it’s important to also have an office presence where the employees can collaborate and bounce ideas off of each other in front of a white board, rather than all employees working remotely. “You’re going to get a better product and the client’s going to see value in that,” DePalma says.

Part of offering high-quality deliverables involves researching and incorporating the most up-to-date digital elements and new media. For example, Punch recently created a virtual reality video that users could access on their mobile phones and view through disposable cardboard VR goggles.

“As people consume things differently our tactical delivery will change,” Tillman says. “The medium is constantly evolving. We have to stay ahead of the curve.”

Plus, Tillman says, having a cache of tech and cybersecurity clients means constantly coming up with compelling ways to present dry material. For instance, the VR project was for a business that makes software, but “making software is boring,” he says. “We needed to figure out a really interesting and immersive and creative way to get people excited about it.”

Tillman and DePalma met while working at another agency and decided to break off to start their own business about two years ago. They now have a 10-person creative team and moved into an office in Shirlington earlier this year. Although launching a startup can be a daunting endeavor — especially because they chose to be self-funded — the Punch co-founders say it was worth taking the risk.

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by Katie Pyzyk — November 7, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

actNOW app prototypeRecently there has been more attention paid to how incidents of sexual assault are handled on college campuses. The team behind actNOW wants to help the victims of those campus assaults easily get access to the resources they need to deal with the frightening, overwhelming issue.

Co-founder Mark Harris says actNOW is a “survivor-centered model to help after an assault has occurred.” Many sexual assault victims are “unfamiliar with how to [report the incident]. There’s a lot of information on websites, but it’s not streamlined,” Harris says. That realization prompted him to look for a way to gather all the information into one place and make it available on a convenient mobile platform.

The web- and app-based service will allow victims of sexual assault to report the incident — either anonymously or with identifying information — to the authorities of their choice. The user enters information about the incident and can choose to inform the university, the campus Title IX office and/or the police.

Users who enter information and then don’t feel like they want to send it can also choose to store the information until they are ready to pass it on to officials. “After an event that is really traumatic, a person may want to wait to come forward,” explains co-founder and certified sexual assault nurse Stacy Garrity.

According to co-founder Lee Reynolds, the actNOW team wanted to “deliver something that’s uactNOW app prototypeseful and impactful” to allow victims to “tell their stories and… know it’s not the end of the road.”

The team members add that this is not a platform for people to put their stories out to the public or media, but rather for victims to report incidents to authorities. But it isn’t only intended to be a reporting platform; the app also will link victims to physical and psychological healthcare providers.

The service makes it less intimidating to report incidents and takes the guesswork out of trying to discover or remember available resources, the co-founders say. Harris stresses that “actNOW is a liaison to the services. We do not provide the actual psychological or physical health services.”

The service started as Harris’ academic project at Georgetown University, and he found Garrity through researching sexual assault resources. Along with Harris’ longtime friend Reynolds, the three officially launched actNOW in March. The Arlington-based business now has six employees.

Much time has been dedicated to researching and initiating appropriate app security measures for both sexual assault victims and the universities where assaults occur. “We have to be mindful of each university’s rules for investigations,” Harris says. In addition, actNOW employees want to make sure strong security measures are in place to ensure the utmost protection for victims’ identifying information and HIPAA privacy.

The actNOW team at a pitch competitionCurrently, actNOW has an app prototype and employees are getting feedback on it from sexual assault victims; so far, the response has been positive. The employees are actively seeking funding and participated in a pitch competition a couple weeks ago. They’re working toward formal app development, which they hope to begin with a tech firm in the next few weeks. If all goes well, they’d like to send the finished app to universities in April 2017 during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The goal is to spend the next three years or so maturing actNOW through activities such as receiving focus group feedback and adding additional features to the service. Eventually, employees would like to explore the possibility of expanding the service to the military.

As far as measuring success with the tool, the actNOW team says that’s achieved when people actually use the tool to get help. “It’s really hard for people to report sexual assault,” Garrity says. “So when we start to see usage of the product, I think we’ll see success.”

The team hopes their passion for developing empowerment through technology will help victims both in the short term and down the road, while simultaneously raising awareness about sexual assault.

“We want to put control back in our users’ hands,” Harris says.

by Katie Pyzyk — October 31, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

There’s a well-known phrase claiming that from necessity comes invention. But sometimes it’s more the case of “from annoyance comes invention.” That’s exactly what prompted a local entrepreneur to invent an app to ease lost wanderers’ frustration at the grocery store.

Basket Helper app by Safety Now SolutionsMinh Tran, of Safety Now Solutions, has created an app called Basket Helper that points users to desired items at a Giant grocery store. It’s not for all Giant stores; very specifically, it’s for the Virginia Square Giant at 3450 Washington Blvd. Right now it’s a pilot that Tran hopes will expand to include other locations.

He took this on as a personal side project, unrelated to Safety Now Solutions’ typical work.

“We usually do public safety software, but this project I made kind of for myself because I was so frustrated with the shopping process,” he says. “Basically when I go to the supermarket I often don’t know where things are. It’s frustrating to walk up and down the store [aisles] staring at the sign that’s above you just to find the right aisle.”

Although some grocery stores have similar apps that show customers which items are in which aisles, Giant does not. Enter Tran and his test pilot.

Basket Helper app by Safety Now SolutionsThe app functions simply: Users type in the items they want to purchase, hit “search” and the store aisle number appears. The platform is programmed to accept many partial word matches or alternate spellings, so entering “lightbulb” and “light bulb” should both provide the correct aisle. Some brand names also come up with a match.

A unique way Tran envisions the app helping people is when they send someone else on an errand to the store. Users can go onto the website app and “actually send your partner the link” showing all the items’ locations, says Tran. “You can type in the things you need and then copy and paste the search link to your partner and they would know which aisle to go to,” he says. That means no more “I couldn’t find it” excuses from the person who went on the errand.

The pilot launched earlier this month on iOS, Android and a website app. Currently it is independent of the Giant grocery chain, but Tran hopes to change that. He has pitched the app idea to Giant and is waiting to hear if they’ll buy it and expand it to other stores. He’s also considered contacting Safeway, because that chain’s app only allows users to search for one item at a time.

Devising the app itself only took a day or two; what’s been time consuming is entering all the items into the database. But Tran only expects to deal with that for the pilot. Once stores purchase the app, they’ll then enter the information themselves. “You can do it quickly if you have multiple people doing it in multiple aisles,” Tran says. Perhaps, for example, employees could add the items to the database as they restock the shelves.

Keep in mind that this prototype can’t guarantee that every single item in the Virginia Square Giant is listed. But so far it comes pretty darn close; with about 3,000 searchable items, Tran estimates about 75 percent of the store’s items are in the database.

“I thought a tool like this would be helpful,” he says. “I wanted to see if people would embrace the idea.”

by ARLnow.com — October 24, 2016 at 6:20 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Nick Freshman knows what it takes to run a successful restaurant, and he’s hoping to use that knowledge to help restaurateurs and investors alike.

Freshman, 40, co-owns Spider Kelly’s in Clarendon and was also a partner in Eventide Restaurant before it was sold and replaced by Don Tito. All told, he’s been involved in the development of a half dozen successful restaurant concepts.

Nick Freshman on the Mothersauce Partners websiteAfter spending the past 20 years working in and then running restaurants, Freshman is trying something new: he has launched Mothersauce Partners, an investment and advisory business that seeks to connect new food and drink concepts with investors while providing expert advice and key industry connections.

Freshman said Mothersauce — a reference to the foundation of French cuisine — allows him to put his passion into action.

“One thing I really love to do is helping other people who are trying to make it,” Freshman said. “I’ve been doing it as a function of something I like to do. In the past year I’ve explored figuring out a way to make that a business, and I finally decided to take a leap this summer.”

“This is a way for me to be a part of a lot of other interesting concepts without having to actually have to deal with the stress and anxiety of running them,” Freshman continued. “There’s all this great talent and they have lots of great ideas, but they either don’t have the capital or they don’t have the expertise. I can provide both of those… but not have to be the [person answering the] phone call at 3:00 in the morning.”

Freshman, who recently added a beer garden behind Spider Kelly’s but doesn’t otherwise have plans to expand it, said he regularly fields inquiries from investors who want to get in on the next big nightlife or restaurant hit.

“A lot of people I know are asking when is the next Spider Kelly’s, when is the next project,” he said. “And there’s a lot of investment capital moving into the restaurant space now, from giant VC firms to friends and family. It’s getting to be a crowded space, there’s a lot of serious money, so I said okay there’s potential for investors… and there’s a market here.”

Mothersauce already has its first concept: Takoma Beverage Company, a soon-to-open spot for handcrafted coffee and tea in Takoma Park, Maryland, helmed by two veterans of Northside Social, which Freshman says is “one of the greatest success stories in Clarendon.”

Freshman says he has “a lot of leads on other projects” and hopes to have a few more in development by this time next year. He hopes to have a “balanced” portfolio, working with both first-time operators “who have lots of potential” and with experienced restaurateurs who could use his local market expertise.

He’s also equally likely to pursue a restaurant concept that may be suitable for only one or two locations as he is to go after a fast-casual chain — say, the next Sweetgreen — that could someday expand nationwide.

“Part of this is an experiment to see what the deal flow is, what is coming in and what do people most need… where is the opportunity,” Freshman said. “I really think it starts and ends with the operators… you find the great talent, you find the great concept, then you execute on it.”

While Freshman is the main figure in the business, he has a roster of advisors he can call on, depending on project needs. And new restaurant owners need plenty of advice: from negotiating a lease to finding investors to building out a space to marketing the restaurant to responding to online reviews.

The launch of Mothersauce Partners comes at a conspicuous time for the local restaurant industry. By our count, more restaurants have closed than opened in Arlington so far this year while the pipeline of new restaurants has slowed.

Despite some local woes — and success in the restaurant industry is famously difficult to achieve in the first place — Freshman said there’s still plenty of opportunity.

“I think there’s a lot of great concepts that have a lot of potential for growth, and there’s a lot of great investors who want [to be in] this space,” he said. “They want to invest in the restaurant space, but they’re not sure how, and… it’s scary, it’s high-risk. What we do is we say ‘listen, we vetted this concept, we know these guys, we’re going be a part of this project, we’re going help them, come in with us and let’s kind of do this thing together.'”

by Buzz McClain — October 17, 2016 at 1:40 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Jessica GuzikJessica Guzik creates communities. She guides strangers into friendships. She develops business partnerships. She improves regional spirit and helps hone municipal reputations. She provides the missing link between virtual reality and… well, reality.

“Cross pollinating socially, that’s harder and harder to do the older you get,” she said, explaining the inspiration for her incipient upstart, Curated Table. “Your big group of friends start families, people get busy with businesses…”

She doesn’t have to finish the thought: Time is short, everyone’s busy, we all are consumed by our screens and taking care of our spiritual and cultural well-being is an after thought, and our professional lives can suffer for it.

But when those companionship needs are met, nourished by a community-wide shared spirit, good things happen, not just to the individual but to those around them, not to mention their businesses.

Okay, so what does Jessica Guzik do? She’s not a politician, not a psychotherapist, not a health and wellness consultant and she’s not Martha Stewart although that may be who she has the most in common with. But with a twist.

“I design creative events that connect communities,” Guzik said. “That’s the simple explanation of it.”

Guzik organizes small dinner parties or lunches that bring together six to 10 guests — generally community-starved millennials, but other ages have opted in–who perhaps never would have met otherwise and to see what happens. It’s not a singles dating thing or a corporate networking event, although singles and corporations are welcome to ask for her services.

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Afterward Guzik takes key learnings from these conversations and turns them into content in the form of white papers, reports and infographics that can be shared with other stakeholders or potential customers.

Guzik got the idea in 2012 when she put together a team-building lunch for her employer. She was living in Washington at the time and while the event and subsequent events were professional successful and inspirational, she personally was “feeling socially isolated in D.C.,” she said.

A move to WeLive in Crystal City crystalized for her not only her own lifestyle but also what could be done with the Curated Table concept and her other communal event idea, Crystal City Supper Club, in a ready-made, built-in neighborhood that was ripe for connecting.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — October 10, 2016 at 5:45 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

White noise appYou might not think that a smartphone app that plays background sounds to help people sleep could be particularly lucrative or innovative. But then you would be underestimating both the market and the vision behind the app.

TMSoft, a small software company based in Crystal City’s 1776 space, released version 7.0 of “White Noise,” its flagship app, over the summer. The update pushes the app in the direction of being a social network, of sorts, for ambient sound.

White Noise, as we’ve previously reported, was released in 2008, just after the Apple App Store started letting iPhone users easily download third-party apps to their phones.

“When I first started I didn’t think anyone was going to download the thing,” said its creator, Ballston resident Todd Moore. “I just ran around my house with a recorder and recorded eight different loops: a bedroom fan, the outside crickets, rain, my HVAC [system]” and so on.

Thanks in part to media exposure — it was written up in the Washington Post, featured on the Today Show and made fun of by Jimmy Fallon — and a first-mover advantage, it became the No. 1 free app in the App Store. Through in-app advertising and a paid-for “pro” version, it was soon bringing in enough revenue that Moore quit his otherwise lucrative R&D job to focus on apps full time.

“I was making more money in a week than I was making all year at my job, and I said to myself, why don’t I quit and do this full time,” Moore recounts.

White Noise remains popular to this day, with the main app and its variants — including a “White Noise Baby” version for parents that includes a built-in baby monitor — generating the bulk of TMSoft’s revenue. (The company has some popular games and novelty apps in its catalog, but none were sustained smash hits on the scale of White Noise.)

“Putting people to sleep is our bread and butter,” Moore quipped, although White Noise is also used by those who want to use background sounds to help them work or study. “It was definitely the story of an app that bootstrapped a company.”

White noise appThe seventh generation of White Noise doesn’t stray from its original use case, but it does represent the culmination of five years of development toward a much broader vision for the app.

“The goal is to catalog the world’s sounds,” Moore said. “I want every country covered and every sound available.”

Why do that when a simple fan or rainstorm noise will usually suffice? User feedback, Moore said, has made him realize that the most impactful sounds represent a specific time and place in people’s memories.

“People are most comforted by sounds of their childhood,” Moore said. Thanks to user submissions, if someone wants to find a loop of a certain type of frog they heard once upon a time in Bermuda, for instance, there’s a sound for that.

Version 6.0 of White Noise introduced the feature that allows users to record sounds on their phone and, through an algorithm, seamlessly loop the sound so that it can play on repeat without distracting clicks or pops — no small engineering feat.

With version 7.0, users can now upload those sounds — and mash-ups of existing sounds — and download others from a marketplace that can be searched geographically. Users can then “heart” and comment on each other’s sounds.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — October 3, 2016 at 4:45 pm 0

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Pacers Running may not be a startup, but it is using digital media to connect with customers in an innovative way more akin to a tech startup than a small specialty retailer.

Since April 2015, Pacers has been extending its reach with a podcast called Pace the Nation. While podcasts aren’t new, they have increased in popularity and influence since Serial helped to reinvigorate the format.

Pace the Nation is a weekly running podcast recorded by a trio of Pacers familiar faces: Chris Farley, who co-owns the chain of stores, Joanna Russo, who manages the Navy Yard store in D.C., and William Docs, a former college teammate of Farley. The show often features special guests, from local high school cross country coaches to elite athletes like Matthew Centrowitz, who won Olympic gold in Rio in the 1500 meter.

Pace the Nation recording

Pacers was founded in 1991 in Alexandria, and has since grown to five local stores in the District and Virginia, as well as a location in Princeton, N.J. Russo said the podcast is a way to still maintain a personal relationship with shoppers as the business branches out.

“It started as one family-owned business and it’s grown to five in the area and one in Princeton,” she said. “When you start to get bigger, it helps people still connect with us if we were still that one storefront.”

The podcast, which launched in April 2015, at first had just a handful of listeners – mostly family members and people who were fans of the store – but now regularly gets about 1,000 listeners every week, Farley said.

Docs said that the listeners are his favorite part of the show.

“I think the coolest thing about the whole podcast for me is the community that it’s built. We have some people who never miss an episode, they tweet to us, they come out to social events,” he said.

Many of the show’s listeners are active in the local running community — they who sign up for local 5Ks and marathons, who join running groups and train all year round. One of Pace the Nation’s devoted fans, Annie Hughes, said that she has been listening to the podcast for a little over a year and looks forward to the new episodes every Monday.

“Arlington can often seem big and impersonal, but PTN showcases the vibrant running community here and invites the listeners to be a part of it,” she said. “When Farley and Docs speak about their favorite running trails, I can immediately relate, as I run those trails too.”

(Today’s Pace the Nation episode — No. 74 — features Marine Corps Marathon Race Director Rick Nealis.)

Hughes said she also loves the show’s non-running discussions, including conversations about dogs, books and Uber woes — something to which all locals can relate.

The podcast started as a way to just “spread the gospel of running,” Farley said. Even now that it’s attracted quite a following, Farley said its primary purpose isn’t to increase sales or drive business to the store.

“This really gives us this platform that really tells our brand story,” he said. “It gives a look into our personalities and who we are and I think makes us more relatable. I think when you get more people to relate to you and to like you, they’re more likely to do business with you. But that’s not even the goal of the show, to ring the register. It’s really to truly inspire people to get out and run.”

The Pacers Clarendon store (3100 Clarendon Blvd) will soon include a new studio for the podcast, with a window to the street so passersby can see the podcast hosts in action, according to Farley. He said he chose to base the show in the Arlington store because of the large number of runners in Arlington, and because it’s the place he’s called home for nearly his entire life.

“I think I’m sort of a rare breed in that I actually grew up here and now live here,” he said. “I definitely make that known on the show, that I am very proud of being an Arlingtonian.”

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